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Saturday, 23 July 2011

GETTING HIGH OR GETTING REAL? SYNCHRONIZING WITH THE COSMIC DANCE OF OPPOSITES


Hasnul J Saidon

Abstract
The gist of this presentation is ‘thinking’ and its relation to the dual nature or paradox of the mind. It explores how such duality can be reconciled in design or any form of creative endeavour through several key design principles that have been intrinsic to our own South East Asian traditional culture and heritage. These inherent principles can be applied to bring about a transformative shift of mindset and perhaps eventual return or revival of sustainable design and cultural ecosystem. It may even provide a window to a global state of what the author would fancy as ‘design awakening’. Both ‘mind’ and ‘thinking’ are presented through an odd mixture of sober writing and personal rambling, with a touch of academic nuance to remind the author that he is an academician (he often forgets). Taking off from the cosmology of ‘pohon hayat’ (the tree of life) found in the traditional shadow puppet performance around South East Asia, the presentation rambles through a series of synapse jumps from Eastern mysticism to modular traditional design to information system and cybernetic theory, neural network, mind mapping, multiple intelligences, high energy and quantum physics, critical theories and cultural studies.  The presentation is divided into 4 main parts, namely ‘the prelude’, ‘re-visiting our shared legacy...’, ‘case examples’ and ‘peace of mind. The first section serves as an appetizer or brain teaser, the second revisits our shared legacy through several key design principles and alternate shifts, the third provides several case examples from the author’s own projects done under various capacities and contexts, and the last serves concluding remark. Due to the author’s laziness, this presentation is not equipped with footnotes and references. Further notes and references may be obtained from the author upon request. The author welcomes everyone to check out his facebook and blog entries at http://hasnulsaidon.blogspot.com/  to either clarify or further confuse some of the issues discussed.

Keywords : Thinking, duality of mind, binary opposites, key design principles, alternate shifts, sustainable design and cultural ecosystem.   


1.        PRELUDE

We are living in a country that is anxious to reach its ‘vision 2020’ with the ubiquitous 1Malaysia chanting echoes in the forefront of our local mainstream media. Most of us would readily subscribe to an urban lifestyle as dictated by the ebbs and flow of free market liberalism. We swim or surf willingly with the wave of globalization (read western) and the novelties of ICT (information and communication technology). Even our lifestyle can be perceived as a form of design or creative industry and money making business. 

Some of us would aspire to emulate the ways of a post-industrial society – contemporary, liberal, efficient, professional, high tech, trendy, hip and don’t forget, rich. It is a society of spectacle in which impression, brand presence, positioning, business acumen and strategic planning are critical to one’s political, social and economic survival. It is a society that is supposed to operate on a highly specialized, systematic, organized, rational, objective and most importantly, scientific system – an ‘apollonian’ legacy left by the male-centric operational logic of industrial paradigm. Linear notion of progress, development and success are highly equated by tangible or quantifiable forms of material gains and numerical indexes. Such is a scenario dominated by a left-brain thinking mode. 

We steer our career in the midst of such society. It surrounds our practice. In many ways, it defines, supports and sustains us. Most of us have no qualm about this scenario.

But here comes the catch. Ironically, it is in such society that we may mostly encounter random serendipities, accidents (of all kinds), unpredictability and for some, weird coincidences. System crashes (despite ‘logical’ operation), cracks in buildings and highways (not to mention those that simply crumbled down), urban landslides, increasing crime rates, social deviants, corruptions and malpractices are several familiar features of our so-called progressive and developing Malaysian society. They contradict the rational system and objective operational logic that are supposed to sustain the society.


It is also in such society that we may witness increasing inclinations or growing interests in things abstract and intangible. They signify a yearning and searching soul seeking for peace and tranquillity, if not to escape the harsh objective reality. The interests come in many forms, from spa, deep sea fishing, adventure sports, shopping, video games, watching ghost movies and many more.  In some cases, the underlying logic of these interests is ‘no logic’, since they don’t generally operate on a purely logical basis. In fact, in some cases, they rely on abstract vibes, dominated by our right brain mode of thinking.

There is a paradox here, a duality of mind or binary opposites.

I would like to explore deeper into such paradox by using my own working mind as a visual artist.

A right-brain artist like me will probable subscribe to the following abstract vibes – chance, coincidence, accident, kismet, karma, luck, providence, fortune, fate and so on. These are the indulgences of the right brain which for some, represent a lame romantic soul. I like to intuit and meditate upon such abstract vibes. 

I also like to operate on an open-ended outset, even though the outset may at times lead me to no where. I like to invite my mind to float and meander in a suspended reality full of probabilities, similar to the trickles, splatters, stains, plots and spots on my paintings. My paintings epitomize a sense of my mind letting go, of detachment and at times, submission. 




As a visual artist, I am partly in control, partly not. The seemingly random and unpredictable results of my exploration of materials and techniques reflect my own personal search on the intrinsic qualities of (in this case), painting. My free-form organic composition is perhaps suggestive of my desire to return to what some may refer to as the ‘Greenbergian’ view of painting - painting that speaks about the act of painting, nothing more, nothing less. I create lyrical and melancholic work, characters that some may perceive as too ‘sissy’ or not competitive enough or does not stand out in an open free market society. 

But then, who cares? What the hack!  I am my own master. I want to be free to indulge in the vast emotional and intuitive mental landscape of my right brain.

Such indulgence may unveil layers upon layers of my subjective realities, previously veiled by the cloaks of presumed rationality and objectivity. They may also sharpen my intuition and provide the possibility of opening the gate of my sub-conscious. I yearn for a higher quantum energy. 

In short, I want to dream. I want to fly and ‘get high’, ok!




But then, I need to ‘get real’ too. I need to have my feet firmly rooted on the ground. Even though I may admit that I am not a left brain type (or prefer to silence that side of mental activities), my career is surrounded and in some cases, defined and supported by those left brain types. Therefore, I need to explore my left brain. 

Here’s the other side of my brain :

My left brain would probably brush off my previous dreamy endeavours and label them as a form of escapism or some kind of mental trapping. Nevertheless, my logical mind may admit that even dreams can be turned into a money spinner, if I know how to exploit them.

My logical mind also requires tangible evidence that can be objectively tested and scientifically confirmed. I need a subject of observation to work outwardly. This left brain of mine breeds on the sometimes over-rated claim of objectivity which entails me to separate myself as the ‘observer’ from the ‘observed’. Instead of submitting to interdependency, I cling on the snobbish claim of being independence. No wonder I feel so isolated.

This left brain of mine is also conditioned by habitual ‘by default’ thinking that there is an ‘objective’ reality out there, outside my mind. It creates perceptual illusion of tangible reality as physical objects or experiences. It stabilizes my mind, making me more and more attached to my own habitual left brain thinking logic and perceptual forms. It creates layers upon layers of veils that discriminate, analyze, differentiate and separate. It helps me to dwell into the economics of income, earnings, revenue, proceeds, turnover, profits and loss. It makes me fiercely competitive and in a constant drive for dominance and control.

My act of making art is not anymore about ‘getting high’, but must also include perceptiveness towards the market. I need to look at myself outwardly as a commodity striving for a competitive market value, sometimes at the expanse of disengaging with my own deep emotional sentiment. Spiritual, social, artistic, cultural and other intangible values have to be subtly spread thin or re-branded to be more hip and competitive for the open market.

With my left brain, I think, plan and strategize. I look for forms. I formalize and control. I even like to police others to force them to conform to my own version of formalism, technicalities and quantitative control. If they still don’t conform, I disconnect, discriminate and separate. 

My logical mind will not let go or submit. It firmly and stubbornly retains my continuous state of what I call as objective reality. This reality fears the unknown and the intangible, the vague and the ambiguous. It despises dreams. It doesn’t want to go crazy. It doesn’t want to fly of ‘get high’.

In short, it wants me to ‘get real’! That’s ok too.

Now let us use a quantum state to further dwell into the paradox of getting high and getting real. Matter or a physical object, from a quantum point of view, can paradoxically feature both wave-like or particle-like sub-atomic behaviours. A wave suggests an idea and always in motion, transient, ephemeral, changing. A particle suggests a form that takes a position, local, seemingly permanent, static. A wave suspends our thinking from being fixed, while a particle implies the desire to locate, formalize, control and freeze a form to see an object. 

Such paradox between wave and particle reflects a quantum state in which all potentialities are entangled until the ‘moment of observation’. It embodies impossibility of prediction and control, suspending one’s intent to observe a stable picture of an object from a fixed singular point of view. 

Multiple views or points in modular patterns of Islamic art for example, implies a quantum state, a state of fluid, organic and inter-connected whole.  It is an art in which the ‘moment of observation’ is chosen democratically by the audience. It signals a break from the classical tradition of linear, mechanistic, deterministic observation and description of the world around us, as epitomized by Newtonian physics. It is about ‘getting high’, and in a mystical context, about ascending. 


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On the other hand, in Newtonian physics, an outcome of a particular event can be predicted correctly – much like a linear perspective system in which all the receding lines converge on a single vanishing point. In this system, all suspended potentialities are reduced into a single point of view, thus a fixed or single way of looking and observing a picture or object. The view is frozen and determined or given and undemocratically decided for the audience. This is about getting real, and in a mystical context, descending.

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We may notice that many local designers or visual artists work according to the classical Newtonian linearity, or trapped in a mechanistic paradigm that reduces all to a predictable uniformity and homogeneity.

Get high, or get real? Do we have to choose between these two binary opposites?

Admittedly, mind can only operate through such duality or binary opposites. For example, one can only understand love by understanding what hate is.  No rocket science here. The issue is that whether the opposites are antagonistic or complimentary? At war or at peace? In embrace or in arm race?

How can a mind be at peace with itself? How can a mind synchronize itself with the cosmic dance of splitting opposites to attain peace? How can a peaceful mind churn out a sustainable design or cultural ecosystem? Is there a model to refer to? If there is a model, what are the key principles or guidelines that can be applied in engaging with contemporary design or creative work? If mind is our current frontier, what would come after all of us became aware of our own patterns of thinking? How can such awareness shift our so-called ‘reality’? If all of us are aware of our own thinking patterns, becoming the silent witnesses of our own minds and thinking, what would happen next?

Global design awakening?


2.        REVISITING OUR SHARED LEGACY WHILST RECONCILING WITH NEW MEDIA TECHNOLOGY THROUGH THE LUCID SPACE OF CRITICAL THEORIES AND CULTURAL STUDIES

The following section will be heavily based on my lazy literature reviews and casual readings, encounters with several individuals or gurus (actually, everything can be my gurus), testing of theories and assumptions through creative projects (mostly using intuition more than scientific research methods) and for most part, personal life experiences when the universe decided to answer my hypotheses or questions through many unexpected ways. 

So here we go.


2.1   Revisiting

In various artistic traditions, nature and the universe have been explicated through patterns and presented in mathematical equations. Many forms of Eastern tradition display formal methods of repeating motifs in various configurations (patterns/orders) as a mean to enter a mystical state (beyond quantum perhaps).

If we look at many traditional forms of pictorial recitations, we may find the use of an image of a tree as a symbol. In a ‘wayang’ or shadow puppet tradition in Malaysia and Indonesia for example, an image of a tree called ‘pohon hayat/beringin’ (tree of life) or ‘gunungan’ (mountain) is used to open a shadow puppet performance. In Malaysia, the image is read by several scholars as a pictorial text or a quantum map that signifies a traditional cosmological reading of life. It symbolizes cross-dimensional universe (or multiverses) in which myriads of beings dwell across 3 domains or dimensions:

i.                     Physical or for some, local (lower consciousness and energy)
ii.                   Mental-emotional or for some, non-local (higher consciousness and energy) 
iii.             Spiritual or for some ‘eternal’ (beyond consciousness and energy - awakened/enlightened)

The central core of the ‘pohon hayat’ represents vertical ascension. Eastern mysticism reads such ascension as humans reaching higher level consciousness (high energy dimension). The radiant branching represents descend. Here, humans dwell in their daily lower level consciousness (low energy dimension interfacing through our five senses).


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Ascension moves upward (getting high!). It unites to reach or return to ‘Oneness’. Descend moves downward (getting real!). It multiplies to reach diversity. As implied by the embrace of Shiva and Shakti, we have to embrace diversity (or duality) in order to reach unity or Oneness.


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In Eastern metaphysics, such a journey across dimensions or multiverses necessitates paradoxical directions – the dual nature of ascend and descend, isra’ and mi’raj, light and shadow, artificial and real, unity and multiplicity, oneness and diversity, ying and yang, as-sham and al-hillal. Unity illuminates inward, while multiplicity illuminates the outward. The source of illumination is the light (energy) of pure compassion and unconditional love.


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In this form of Eastern cosmological reading, the essence of a sustainable living is a complimentary convergence, balance (or in the case of this presentation), dance between opposites, as in the pairing or partnering of ascend and descend as well as the previously-mentioned binary opposites. It represents inter-connectedness between the micro and macro, the individual self with societal others, internal and external, spiritual and physical.


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Design and creative work within such traditional cosmological reading have always been taken as a part of creating a sustainable cultural ecosystem. This ecosystem induces inter-connectedness, inter-dependency and a balanced symbiosis of opposites across all the three dimensions. Through pure compassion and unconditional love, the ecosystem features complimentary (not antagonistic) cross-existence between the arts and the sciences, left brain and right brain, male and female, apollonian and dynosian and all the binary opposites that we can come up with. 


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Asian artistic legacies can be traced in its rich cross-cultural heritage. Pictorial recitations or performed paintings in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Japan, Iran and India reflect the legacies of such ecosystem. Can such sustainable cultural ecosystem be retained and conserved or rejuvenated in today’s post-colonial, post-industrial, post-modern matrix of Asian contemporary societies? Can it be reconciled with new media technology and brain studies that now dominate our living experience today?

The answer is yes


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Asian Pictorial Recitations



2.2   Reconciliation

Cybernetic paradigm for example, offers interconnected patterns of neural networks in various and constantly changing configurations, similar to the mapping and mystical paradigm of ‘pohon hayat’. It relates to mental models of reality built through various associations of patterns or representations. It allows humans to create and recreate in forming new patterns of thinking, much like the sprouting of new branches on a tree. Artworks, design and other creative disciplines increasingly reformulate multi-dimensional models or patterns of thinking due to efficient information flow and exposure. Technological advances have accelerated contacts and created webs of overlapping networks or multiple realities as well as virtual connections through new media. 


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Cyberspace, as used by William Gibson in his novel “Neuromancer” describes a composite new space that encompasses patterns in both extremes of scale – the vast macro and global network of telecommunications, and the miniscule or micro space in the microchip with the ever increasing power to store, interconnect and manipulate data. It is not far from the mapping of micro and macro branching and sub-branching of ‘pohon hayat’ and the overlapping micro and macro modular units of Islamic art, Buddhist mandala and Indian kolam. They reflect a quantum map of higher energy in its sustainable state. 


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Brain studies and human cognition reveal similar fractal (branching) or tree-like networks of neural patterns. Split-brain and whole brain theory, multiple intelligences and radiant mind-mapping reflects multi-dimensional tree-like patterns, connectivity, growth and expansion. Information in living organisms (including cells) is based on the branching and sub-branching concept of systems and sub-systems that are organized into a network of interconnected hierarchies.


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Excerpts from the Borrower of Light 2
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We are increasingly shifting into a lucid space in which forms are beginning to be taken over by information (or patterns of thinking). Are we ready to embrace information age where awareness of our thinking or the working of our brain (mind) is our next frontier?



2.3   Enter the lucid space

The following is the scenario of such lucid space. It is a space where information and new media theories propel the shift from modernist to post-modernist discourses. It is a space where cultural studies and critical theories related to post-colonial reflex, language, representation, semiotics, identity, gender, sub-altern perspectives and ‘the others’ provide more inclusive, trans-disciplinary and interconnected new grounds for the reconciliation of tradition with new media technology. It is a space where what was previously taken as ‘third texts’ or ‘pre-modern’ paradigm (read primitive, archaic, uncivilized and not scientific by modernist paradigm) will be reclaimed as a viable solution for a sustainable contemporary living ecosystem.

It is also a space where meta-language (as in the hegemony of global mainstream media for example) is increasingly dissolved, together with its claim of superiority, power, hegemony, dominance and control. It is a space where meta-narrative (as in the way official history is being told for example) is beginning to be taken over by ‘little narratives’ on the periphery. 

In this lucid space, the repressive role of certain sign system designed to control the masses through Repressive State Apparatus and Ideological State Apparatus (ISA?) is increasingly being exposed. In this lucid space, one has to flexibly negate one’s own position in regards to a complex webs of languages and overlapping discourses, sign systems and multiple binary contexts (as in local/global, Malay/non-Malay, privilege/non-privilege, Muslim/non-Muslim and many more). 

In this lucid space, culture, tradition and heritage may not anymore taken as a fixed or progressing phenomena (in a linear sense), but as all things produced by human intervention, especially ideological. Cultural space may increasingly be taken as an open arena of contestation and change while the value of cultural objects in the whole spectrum of cultural production may begin to be permeated by the conditions of economic exchange. Cultural production of objects, including design and the visual art, may growingly become ‘myth creations’ especially if it is meant to universalize and make the engagement with such objects seem natural to human experience. Meanings that such myths induce may not necessarily be natural at all, instead constructed to serve particular interests of a controlling culture and dominating discourse. 

Such lucid space may read nature as a conception constructed by ideological conditioning, not absolutely natural all the time. It reads ideology as a tool to naturalize everything that is economic, political and social in order to make its contingency appear apolitical and timeless – creating myths such as ‘common sense’ or ‘naturally given’. Ideology thus will come to signify a tool used to maintain and reproduce social power.  

It is a lucid space that acknowledges how language (including design and the visual art) does not only mirror an object, but constructs and constitutes it. It acknowledges that all cultural forms including design, can be analyzed like a language, especially in regards to identity. The discourse of identity is held to be social and discursive construction. 

It is a lucid space where language, meaning and identity are unstable and not fixed. They are nevertheless regulated and temporarily stabilized in social practices into pragmatic narratives. It is a space where meanings are relational and formed within what is termed as ‘language games’ (how ways of speaking about a topic are regulated or controlled). 

It is a lucid space where signifying practices produce multiple identities. Meanings attached to a particular design product for example, are produced symbolically through signifying practices of language and representation. Similar to meanings in language, identities are produced by active human agents. Consequently, the space entails a process of ‘listening to people’, instead of ‘talking to’. 

The many notions of self, both personal and collective as well as cultural are growingly narrated by the active public at large, not just a small number of so-called ‘experts’ or ‘specialists’. The many notions of self-identity are not necessarily given, universal, homogenous, fixed and frozen, but are rather performed and appear to be in a constant state of ‘becoming’.  
  
Are we ready to dwell in such a lucid space? Are our minds ready to be awakened?



2.4   Key design principles 

The summarize this section, allow me to enlist several key design principles that can be traced in many forms of our shared South East Asian design heritage. The principles can also be related to information and cybernetic paradigm, as well as the way our brains work. These principles can be applied in many different forms of creative endeavours across various disciplines. The principles can be used as a basis of reconciling the duality of mind (making peace) and contribute towards designing a sustainable living ecosystem. The principles may also reconcile the dichotomy of ‘getting high’ and ‘getting real’ into a complimentary whole instead of an antagonistic pairing.


Adaptation and Modularity
 
Modularity refers to the use of small units or motifs that can be combined to form bigger units of motifs.  Infinite numbers of combinations can be created and perceived.  Together they create infinite and multidimensional interlocking patterns.  Modularity increases adaptability.  What this means is that anything designed by the use of modular principle can be very adaptive to changing physical situation without changing the core identity. This formal principle is very schematic, which means that it uses mathematical calculation as the basis of visualization.  In a mathematical term, such multiplicity is called fractal. This schematic method is also comparable to a computer programming language. Modular principle is used for examples in Islamic arabesque pattern, Buddhist mandala, Indian Kolam, Malay carving, and many other forms of traditional arts.  Adaptation and modularity balance the idea of a fixed and rigidly prescribed design.  They balance obsession towards permanency.  They induce changes.

 
Samples of Field Research Documentation3



Flexibility and Audience-centered/Inclusive/Participative/Immersive
 
Flexibility refers to the result of modularity and adaptation. It avoids a particular design from becoming fixed, permanent and static.  It also allows the audience or user to create his or her own pattern of experience, physically and intellectually or emotionally.  Flexibility means that every individual can experience a design according to his or her own entry point or point of view.  Each audience or user may share similar experience as well as encounter different experience. In many forms of South East Asian traditional arts, this principle refers to the ability of a design to be adapted and changed according to the changing needs - space, time, materials, geographical condition, socio-cultural demands and so on.  The changes however, do not erase the essential character of the whole design. Flexibility creates a design that is sustainable, open-ended, participatory, inviting, engaging and nature and human-friendly. It balances personal needs and social demands.  One good example is the design of a traditional Malay house. This principle is also used in computer programming and authoring.  One main purpose of computer programming and authoring is to design a system that will allow the user to create his or her own pattern of interaction and experience. A good system shares similar flexibility principle and the desired results -  open-ended, participatory, inviting, engaging and human-friendly, balancing both personal needs and social demands. 


Non-linear and Cyclical, Simultaneous and Multiple View Points
 
These principles refer to a method of design that can be found in many forms of South East Asian traditional arts.  Non-linear and cyclical design has no single focal point or centre. Instead, it has many focal points.  The choice of a focal point can be decided by the audience or user. Cyclical design is non-linear because it doesn’t require a singular sequence or flow or direction.  Instead, the sequence, flow or direction is determined by the audience or user. To understand this, one may use a comparison between visual system used in an Arabesque design with the singular point of a linear perspective system.  In a perspective system, singular point is used in which all the lines converge. The audience has no choice but to follow the direction of perception towards a single focal point.  On the other hand,  in an Arabesque design, multiple points are used and it is up to the audience to chose which point as a focus. Non-linear and cyclical principle also rejects the idea of linear progression.  For example, a typical linear narrative contains single story development from a catalyst towards resolution. The audience or user doesn’t have a choice but to follow the singular story flow.  On the other hand, a non-linear system offers multiple stories within stories and it is up to the audience or user to decide which story to follow and how they want to enter the story. Examples of non-linear or cyclical principle can be found in many forms of South East Asia traditional literatures, performing arts, music, architecture and the visual arts.  It can also be found in interactive computer products such as games, entertainment and educational CD-ROM.
 

Interactive and Dynamic, Inter-dependence/Inter-connected and Highly Networked

By engaging the audience or user into a design, it becomes interactive and dynamic.  The principles explained before lead to an interactive and dynamic design.  Interactivity relies on the idea of inter-dependency and network.  Interactivity and dynamism celebrate moments and changes, instead of relying solely on fixed permanency. They induce choice. These features can be observed in both traditional South East Asiaarts as well as new media. In the traditional arts, they can be observed for example in the intricate arabesque patterns.  In new media, it can be observed in the programming of an intricate network system.


Convergence and Trans-disciplinary
 
Traditional forms of performing art in South East Asia are multidisciplinary in essence.  It means that a performance is taken as a whole, not perceived in fragments of different types of arts.


Balance 

Balance is the most important principle.  It is the key to all the principles mentioned before.  It also reflects the idea of reaching unity through multiplicity, negotiating between the opposite forces of the binary pair.  It relates to the notion of following a middle path.


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2.5   Alternate shifts

The following is a list of alternate shifts that may be used as a guide in propelling rejuvenation and transformative initiatives, charting new territories, advocating sustainability and shifting from defunct paradigm. The shifts may also act as our preludes for ‘synchronizing with the cosmic dance of opposites’. They may hopefully lead us to a door of a ‘global design awakening’.

From Massification to Demassification
From Designer as a Controller to Designer as a Facilitator
From Review of End Product to Review of Process
From Summative to Formative
From Linear to Non-linear
From Permanence & Static to Impermanence and Change (design for change)
From Isolated Specialist to Multi-skilled generalist
From Hierarchy to Network of Relation
From Sequence to Simultaneity
From Hand Skill to Brain/Cognitive  Skill
From Organization Man to Migrant Professional
From Goods to Services
From Global Competition  to Global Collaboration
From Dominance to Synergy
From Control to Trust
From Formal to Contextual
Independence to Interdependence
From Fixed and Standardized to Modular and Flexible
From Consumer to Prosumer
From Form to Information/Context
From Singular discipline to Trans-disciplines
From Centralized to Multiple Centers/Decentralized
From Pre-determined to Choices
From Object to Time



  1. CASE EXAMPLES
The following case examples represent selected projects that I had engaged under various capacities and contexts. They provide examples of how the above-mentioned paradox, questions/hypothesis, shared legacy, theoretical frameworks, key design principles and alternate shifts have been interpreted, applied and tested in various different ways. Of course, not all the projects were formally approached as a form of scientific research. Nevertheless, some of the projects have been approached as a part of action research in which the outcomes or findings have been comprehensively documented for further discussions. They have become a part of both personal and institutional organic learning process (under my capacity as a lecturer and Director of the Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah/MGTF, USM). Collectively, they have become a significant part of MGTF’s transformative drive and rejuvenation. 

MGTF as an institution does compile data and statistics on several Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). It has also engaged in several research projects related to Audience Profile and Behaviour, Info-graphic, Exhibition Design & Technology and Collection Management. 

For the sake of brevity, the following case examples are presented in key points. 


3.1   Course syllabus and Curriculum Design 

i.                    Expanded Media and Lattalilat

As we go about running 'the business' of art, these beautiful and jovial kids (albeit obviously not materially rich), may teach us a lesson or two about that normally missing part of art - play! They reminded me of my childhood and why I chose to love art.

This heartful project was created and initiated by the Lattalilat Grup UNIMAS, as a part of their Expanded Media 2nd. year course for the Fine Art Programme at the Faculty of Applied & Creative Arts, UNIMAS. I teach the course as a visiting lecturer. The course is meant to challenge the cmodernist convention of visual art by expanding it beyond the confine of formalism and gallery walls. Students are encouraged to fuse visual art with other disciplines to create a lucid space where many different ways of engaging with creativity can be explored. The project engaged kids from low-income family. They collected discarded junks, mostly industrial parts to create objects that can be used as toys and games. The resulting outcomes can also be taken as sculpture, photography, installation and animation.

When the project was presented, I was blown away and my heart melted. Looking at these faces via the documented pictures and video humbled me. While I was busy theorising about multidimensional art, expanded media, convergence, audience-centred, inclusivity, inter-connectivity, participative, immersive, trans-disciplinary, community engagement, sustainability and all those so-called high-end ideas, this project simply 'did it'. They washed away this toxic and noisy mind of mine. Heck, I even felt guilty having to drill the students who did the project about their objectives, problem statement, research questions, hyphotesis, theoretical framework, comparative study, methodology, finding and so on, bla, bla, bla. Just enjoy the pictures.


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ii.                 Mapping Cultural Self, Interfaces, Living the Brands

These projects are a part of a course called ‘Cross-cultural Design”. They were designed to engage students with both personal and collective notions of cross-cultural experience beyond the conventional ethnographic approach. Through the projects, students will hopefully able to become active investigators, readers and contributors of cultural experience, values and identity, rather than passive receivers or subscribers.

Samples of Body Mapping


Samples Of Digital Interface






3.2   Performance

i.Antara Semangat 

Application of the key design principles discussed above in the design of the stage.


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ii.Kebun Bunyi (Garden of Sounds)

“Kebun Bunyi” is a rock-metal-fusion group formed by MGTF with open membership that does not require any formal training or experience in music whatsoever. What is required is an open mind and heart that will allow the soul to vibrate in synchrony with the frequency of the universe. It welcomes audience-intervention especially during its open jamming in various premises. In doing so, it provides experiential learning that is more interactive and inclusive than passive observation.

Sounds and music bring people to groove and be 'in sync' with each other. "Kebun Bunyi" is inclusive. "Kebun Bunyi" propagates collaboration and speaks the universal language of sounds, where each person can be in his/her own groove but yet contribute to the whole. "Kebun Bunyi" encourages us to play together. People who play together, stay together, even though they sometimes annoy each other (that’s part of the groove too!). It teaches us to source our rhythm from 'within' and acknowledge that all of us develop our sense of hearing way earlier (in our mothers' wombs!) than our sense of sight (few weeks after we were born).  It’s open jamming allows anybody to come and go anytime, open entry point. That's the beauty of our traditional music legacy, which is very democratic and open-ended. No suffocating formalism here.






  1. PEACE OF MIND
The past 6 years of directing MGTF has been a blessing for me. It has been a critical learning lesson for me. The past 9 years of being a citizen of Penang has been more than a blessing. Penang has been providing me with many practical models especially in regards to culture and heritage, that I can learn from. I have also learnt to make peace and synchronize with the ‘cosmic dance of opposites’.  I believe that a mind at peace with itself is a crucial pre-requisite to designing a sustainable cultural ecosystem. 

Make peace, it is inherent in us and has been an intrinsic part of our shared cross-cultural legacy. In my case, that is what being a Muslim all about. Salam.





































































































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